With just four more stages of the event remaining, 555 Subaru World Rally Team driver Tommi Makinen is in the lead of Rally Argentina tonight. After a thrilling battle for victory today he won four stages and overturned Marcus Gronholm's 1 minute...
With just four more stages of the event remaining, 555 Subaru World Rally Team driver Tommi Makinen is in the lead of Rally Argentina tonight. After a thrilling battle for victory today he won four stages and overturned Marcus Gronholm's 1 minute 40 second first-leg advantage to take the lead on the penultimate stage.
Makinen, who won this event in 1996, 1997 and 1998 is now in the best position to challenge for a record-breaking fourth WRC win in Argentina, and go into the history books as the most successful driver in the event's 22-year history.
Still suffering with painful stomach cramps, Petter Solberg put in another excellent performance too at the wheel of his Subaru Impreza WRC2002. He fought a close battle with Carlos Sainz all day, but maintained the advantage and holds fourth place overall.
Today's action was an exact repeat of leg one, and 50 crews headed up into the mountain roads to the north and west of Cordoba for nine competitive stages. Once again the stages presented drivers with a tricky blend of fast, smooth and sandy roads with narrow, rock-strewn tracks. Some of the repeated stages were rutted, but weather conditions were generally better and there was less dust and fog for crews to contend with.
SS10 0833hrs Capilla del Monte - San Marcos Sierra (23.02km)
Fastest Time: Burns (Peugeot) 17:10.0
The day started with probably the most dramatic stage of the rally so far. Richard Burns was quickest on the section, which was cancelled yesterday due to spectator overcrowding, Tommi Makinen was second, Markko Martin third, Sainz fourth and Solberg fifth. But SS10 proved to be an unlucky one for many leading competitors. Overall leader Marcus Gronholm lost around 50 seconds of his overnight 1min 40 advantage with a hydraulic problem. Gabriel Pozzo lost power-steering on his Skoda and dropped 90 seconds, while a lack of turbo-boost for Alister McRae's Mitsubishi cost him more than two minutes. There were two top-10 retirements, Freddy Loix was first to go when his Hyundai developed a throttle problem and expired shortly after the finish line. Harri Rovanpera was next, the engine in his 206WRC dropped to two cylinders on the stage and then gave up altogether on the road section to SS11.
SS11 0904hrs San Marcos Sierra - Cuchi Corral (26.97km)
Fastest Time: Makinen (555 Subaru) 15:13.3
The final stage before service gave second-placed Makinen another opportunity to further reduce the gap to Gronholm. The 555 Subaru star pushed hard, won the stage, and clawed back another 36 seconds from his compatriot. The gap between the lead pair was down to 16 seconds. Burns was second-fastest through the 26 km section, Colin McRae third and Solberg fourth - despite running with a badly damaged left-front tyre. After SS11 crews returned to the service point at La Cumbre.
SS12 1054hrs Cosquin - Villa Allende (19.19km)
Fastest Time: Makinen (555 Subaru) 13:20.9
Makinen kept the heat on Gronholm. Once again the 555 Subaru driver was quickest through the stage, and although Gronholm's hydraulic problem had been fixed in service he lost another three seconds of his lead. Markko Martin broke a wheel rim on his Ford Focus WRC, which in turn severed the rear brake lines - he drove the final 5km without them. Skoda's Toni Gardemeister received a 10-second penalty before the stage for leaving the service area one minute late.
SS13 1207hrs Super Special stage, Pro-racing Lane A (3.44km)
Fastest Time: Burns (Peugeot) 2:12.7
SS14 1207hrs Super Special stage, Pro-racing Lane B (3.44km)
Fastest Time: C. McRae (Ford) 2:12.2
Two more passes through the spectator-friendly Super-Special at Carlos Paz made little impact on the overall standings. Burns won the first loop, with Colin McRae taking the win the second time. On SS13 Petter Solberg lost around 15 seconds when the transmission in his Subaru locked, then momentarily slipped into reverse, mid-way through the stage. He quickly got moving again, and was not badly affected on SS14.
SS15 1312hrs Tanti - Cosquin (16.07km)
Fastest Time: Makinen (555 Subaru) 8:22.7
Another win for the fired-up Makinen who at the pre-stage regroup had announced his intention to catch Gronholm by the end of the day - the gap was now down to 8.9 seconds with three stages remaining. The Peugeots of Burns and Gronholm were second and third through, with Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz fourth and fifth.
SS16 1312hrs La Falda - Villa Giardino (9.37km)
Fastest Time: McRae (Ford) 6:35.9
On the last stage before service Colin McRae pushed hard and took the win, with teammate Carlos Sainz right behind in second. Meanwhile the Peugeot vs. Subaru battle for the lead continued to intensify with Makinen claiming another three seconds from Gronholm. Leading Production Class driver Toshihiro Arai knocked a wheel off his Group N Subaru Impreza during the stage, he lost more than two minutes but made it back to service for repairs.
SS17 1513hrs La Cumbre - Agua de Oro (23.46km)
Fastest Time: Makinen (555 Subaru) 19:49.4
555 Subaru driver Tommi Makinen was quickest and was faster than Gronholm by more than eight seconds to snatch the overall lead of the rally. Burns was the next fastest, but he remained more than 30 seconds behind Gronholm overall. Sainz and Solberg were fourth and fifth fastest, with the young Norwegian's fourth place under heavy pressure from Sainz. There was another blow for Peugeot before the stage when Gilles Panizzi's 206 WRC overheated shortly after leaving service. The asphalt expert, who had been ninth after SS16, retired on the spot. Markko Martin was involved in a frightening incident 3kms from the start line when a spectator threw a rock at his car. The Estonian's Ford was travelling at approximately 120kph when the rock smashed the windscreen, showering him with glass. Martin kept his nerve and finished eighth.
SS18 1605hrs Asochinga - La Cumbre (28.83km)
Fastest Time: Burns / Gronholm (Peugeot) 18:39.2
In a nail-biting finale to the day, Gronholm and Burns both blasted through the 28kms Asochinga test to jointly claim the fastest time. But all eyes were on the battle of the Finns, and Makinen's third-fastest time was enough to keep the Subaru star in the lead - but it was close. Incredibly, after more than 300 stage kilometres, the lead pair will start the final leg separated by just 0.5 seconds. Petter Solberg put in another sparkling performance, he was fourth-fastest and pulled further ahead of Carlos Sainz.
Tomorrow's third and final leg takes teams west to the Translasierra region and the highest point of the rally. Just four stages and 73 competitive kilometres remain before crews make their way to the finish in Cordoba's Olympic stadium. Last year over 15,000 spectators cheered the winning car over the finish ramp.